When I consider my favourite books, I think about the ones that in some way changed the way I thought about something, or showed me a new perspective. From Rudyard Kipling, to bible verses, to this discount-bin pornographic parody of Tintin my gran unknowingly gave me, in which Captain Haddock makes a to-scale cutout of Tintin’s face and positions it over the mouth over Snowy’s little butthole, my best books and stories are the ones that taught me something.
And Hemingway’s First Forty-Nine certainly taught me a few things. Sure it may have an advantage over other books in that it contains forty-nine stories, which is why I won’t be getting into each of the them, but rather why they mattered to me. Although the subject matter is a little unfashionable in today’s world, his prose and use of subtext gives the stories a timeless and incredibly personal feel. Through them was forced to repeatedly consider existing assumptions or opinions, on anything from war and conflict to personal success, what it is to be a man, love and the pursuit of happiness.
If anything though, I wish I’d read this book before any other works by Hemingway. The First Forty-Nine, for me, is an education on the author. I learned as much about him as a writer, and the voice and technique he is so well known for, as I did about myself.
The First Forty-Nine is a lesson on Hemingway and an introspective look into ones own motivators, goals and idea or understanding of happiness. It’s impossible for me to read anything by Hemingway and not consider old age and death, or how I’ll arrive at either. And just about every one of the forty-nine encourages this thinking. ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’ felt like a conversation between an older and a younger me. ‘My Old Man’ so beautifully tells the of the moment we realise our parents are just like us, flawed people as lost an imperfect as their children. And a ‘Big Two-Hearted River’ elicits a feeling of adventure and in it’s simplicity forces one to consider what one needs to find peace and happiness.
Picking a favourite is an impossible task, but here are a few of my best. If you read any of the forty-nine, make sure these are among them.
‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber’, ‘A Simple Enquiry’, ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’, ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’, ‘Big Two-Hearted River’, ‘My Old Man’, ‘Fifty Grand’, ‘Now I Lay Me’.
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